February 2010


Lorraine Duffy Merkl is a New York author, freelance journalist and advertising creative director/copywriter. Her debut novel, Fat Chick, was published in 2009. She also writes a bi-monthly column - New York Gal - for Manhattan Media’s Our Town and West Side Spirit newspapers. (Interview by Annmarie Ottman)

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  1. 1. What inspired you to write your debut novel, Fat Chick?

    Well, they say write what you know, and since I’ve gained and lost the same 30 pounds over the past three decades, I felt I knew of what I spoke. But, once I started writing the story of this person who goes up and down the scale, I realized the story would be more interesting if it were about something deeper. I wanted to refute the myth that once you go from fat to thin all will be right with your world. You’re still you. At the opposite end of the diet spectrum, a person is still obsessed with food, even if the obsession is to not eat a lot of it. I decided to use weight fluctuation as a metaphor for living life in extremes, emotionally as well as physically, and how being black or white deprives you of life’s shades of gray. For a long time, I had been preoccupied with the idea of living a life with balance, so I made “finding balance” the theme. I wanted the main character to find the emotional balance that she once had in her life when she was a young girl. She lost her balance when her father was taken from the family and that played itself out by either overindulging with food or depriving herself of it. Finally, another tragedy in her adult life brings back her desire to get back on track. First, she has to let go of the past, then she begins her journey to reclaim her emotional center. This is visible as she also reaches a middle ground physically.

  2. 2. What is it about Trish that will appeal to readers?

    I think the appeal of Trish is that like so many people who have an issue, she treats the symptom not the cause. In her case, she over-eats, and her solution is to go on a diet to get thin. This keeps repeating itself over and over for years. It’s not until she gets to the reason for over-eating that she can break the cycle.

  3. 3. In 2009, Glamour magazine was applauded for featuring “plus-size” models. The models were closer to size 10 or 12 than size 2. Do you think it is absurd that we consider women who are a size 10 or 12 “plus-size”?

    My understanding of “plus-size” models was always that they were more like size 22. I also read recently in fact, that the average woman is size 10 or 12. The idea that plus models are now size 12 seems like something fishy is going on in the fashion industry. They are being pressured to cater to larger sizes because they’re not selling as many size 2s as they used to or something like that. But they don’t want to reconstruct their fashions to fit a size 18 or 20, so they’ve just changed the category of “plus” to suit themselves. How could a size 10 be a plus? Plus what? A person with flesh on her bones does not a “plus” make.

  4. 4. Do thinner girls always get the guy?

    No. If thin were the answer, then only thin people would be married or go on dates. Thin women complain about not being able to meet the right man, too. Jennifer Aniston is thin, and in the five years since her divorce she hasn’t had much luck in the dating arena. I think when we’re rejected, we need a reason so we can understand it. If you’re overweight you say, “He didn’t want me because I’m not thin.” If you’re over 40, you say, “He didn’t want me because I’m not young enough.” If you have a career, “I’m too successful for him.” I think most of the time there’s no reason except that there just wasn’t a spark. Because when there is, no one cares about your job, your age or what size you are.

  5. 5. What message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

    I hope people will want to create balance in their own lives. In our society, middle of the road has gotten a bad rap. It’s come to mean boring or wishy-washy. But really, it’s sanity. I heard two women discussing a third who wasn’t there. About her they said, “She’s either overweight and miserable or thin and neurotic.” I knew the character I had created was on target, because that’s who Trish is. Who wants to live like that? It’s exhausting. I hope readers will see that and want to get off whatever yo-yo ride they’re on. There’s peace in the center.

  6. 6. Tell us about your New York Gal column.

    I write the New York Gal column for two Manhattan Media-owned newspapers: Our Town and The West Side Spirit. I chronicle what it’s like to live in NYC from a regular person perspective (aka not that of a Park Avenue socialite.) I have been a New Yorker all my life and love my city. Even the everyday can seem like something mythical because of the energy the city brings to it. Also, there’s always something going on here, so I am never at a loss for a topic to write about.

  7. 7. Who are your favorite chick lit authors?

    I admire Susan Isaacs. Her book, Anywhere I Hang My Hat is one of my favorite books. I usually buy books based on the story more than the author, though.

  8. 8. What are you reading now?

    I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s great. I’ve also recently read the novels: The Shiksa Syndrome, Time of My Life and A Summer Affair. I like memoirs as well. The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties by Helen Weaver is proof that all women who came of age in that decade were not “Betty Draper”. The author lived a cool life. Right now, I’m taking a break from “chick” and just picked up Outliers. So far I have learned that success equals ability plus opportunity plus arbitrary advantage.

  9. 9. Any future novels in the works?

    Yes, my next is about a 50-year-old stay-at-home mother who decides to re-enter the workforce.

  10. 10. What advice would you give aspiring authors?

    Keeping writing and rewriting. Keep sending out your stuff. Let the other guy give up.

  11. 11. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your novel?

    That selling it and promoting it is the hard part and that writing is the fun, interesting part that should be enjoyed.

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